The shipping and freight industry are one of the largest, most complex industries in the world. In America, it is the lifeblood of supply chains, which drives economic development and allows a modern day, e-commerce society to function. This massive fleet of freight trucks sojourns across the country, carrying vital goods, products, and materials to the people who need them.
The freight industry of the 21st century faces a juggling act of somehow managing tighter supply chains and faster delivery times, all the while balancing the public demand for practicing more sustainable energy consumption. In response to this growing criticism, the freight industry is pushing towards decarbonization in a commitment towards going green.
Green shipping is the future, but how exactly is it going to affect the freight industry? Below, we will discuss the specific challenges the freight industry faces in regards to eco-friendly shipping and the steps they are taking to answer the calls to move in an eco-friendly direction.
According to the ATA (American Trucking Association), freight trucks carry more than 70% of freight tonnage throughout the country. This represents millions of trucks and nearly 40 billion gallons of diesel fuel consumed annually, which means substantial amounts of carbon dioxide and air pollutants released into the atmosphere. On top of that, packaging and fulfillment can lead to massive amounts of waste accumulation. As a result, the freight industry’s carbon footprint is quite massive.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), “The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to anthropogenic U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. According to the Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2016(the national inventory that the U.S. prepares annually under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), transportation accounted for the largest portion (28%) of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2016. Cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads, among other sources, all contribute to transportation end-use sector emissions.”
By sector the Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2016 looked like this:
- Transportation: 28% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Electricity: 28% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Industry: 22% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Agriculture: 9% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- Commercial: 6% of Greenhouse Gas
- Residential: 5% of Greenhouse Gas emissions
By sources within that 28% of GHG caused by the transportation industry in 2016 the main contributors were the following:
- Light-Duty Vehicles: 60% of transportation Greenhouse Gas emissions
- Medium and Heavy-Duty Trucks: 23% of transportation Greenhouse Gas emissions
- Aircraft: 9% of transportation Greenhouse Gas emissions
- Other: 4% of transportation Greenhouse Gas emissions
- Rail: 2% of transportation Greenhouse Gas emissions
- Ships and Boats: 2% of transportation Greenhouse Gas emissions
As you might imagine, these numbers above are likely to be slightly lower than current figures since retail, e-commerce, and manufacturing are at all-time highs and expected to continue seeing growth. While figuring out ways to cut down emissions may be a daunting prospect, even small changes can make substantial differences in the effort to protect and preserve the world.
Why the Freight Industry Should Go Green
There are three main reasons as to why it would behoove the freight industry to move in an environmentally friendly direction. Such reasons include:
#1 Increase profits – While it may seem heartless, this is what companies care most about and for understandable reason. Companies are beholden to their employees and shareholders to always seek to improve the bottom line. Fortunately, going green can accomplish this since it is a movement towards optimization. Finding better and more efficient ways to ship and package can save a company money in the long run.
Jean-Paul Rodriguez, a professor at Hofstra University and an authority in transport geography had this to say: “It’s their bottom line. They want to find more fuel-efficient vehicles, and they do a lot of research into optimization algorithms for the routing of their trucks, from making sure they turn in one direction to minimizing wear and tear. When you have a fleet of thousands of vehicles, and you’re able to save 1 or 2 percent of fuel or maintenance costs because of more efficient routing, it’s big money at the end of the year.”
#2 Avert harm to the environment – This should be the most obvious and moral reason to go green when it comes to shipping and freight practices. Moving towards optimized and efficient shipping practices help to cut fuel prices and thus decrease freight prices both for carriers and consumers. Looking for more effective fuel methods and finding quicker, more efficient routes will help reduce emissions and costs in the long run.
#3 Consumers care about corporate social responsibility – Consumers care increasingly about a company’s social impact and business practices. Moving in a green direction signals to consumers and competitors that your company desires to leave a positive impact on the world. Going green, even if it means a potentially higher cost in the short run, will have positive effects in the long term, and will help to engage both customers and competitors.
Actions Freight Companies Can Take to Go Green
Small changes can make huge differences when it comes to preserving the environment. Below are just some of the ways shipping practices and methods are changing to accomplish this goal.
Carbon pollution is one of the most significant dangers to the environment. Unfortunately, the burning of carbon has been a necessary evil for decades now in order to power the freight industry. While some claim we need to cut all carbon emissions completely, such actions would likely cripple the economy and send us back into the dark ages. As we have witnessed in France with their carbon fuel taxes and the 30% increase in gas, such measures have caused massive damage to their economy as well as created great strife and civil unrest.
The proper steps to take is to do what humans have always done; adapt, invent, and move towards further optimization. In such aims, alternative means of fuel are emerging and will continue to emerge in the near future. Currently, there is a strong push made towards decarbonization in the freight and shipping industry.
This movement towards emissions reductions involves:
- Re-examining the type of oil used and eliminating as much carbon from fuels as is humanly possible.
- Placing stricter regulations and restrictions on fuel usage.
- Enforcing that operators comply with fuel usage.
The freight industry is making a concerted effort to cut emissions and while this may mean higher input costs in the short run, in the long run, a movement towards greener more efficient fuel usage will decrease total costs.
The freight industry has looked to embrace new technology that can help cut costs, improve visibility, and optimize their supply chain. Much of this involves creating more efficient routes that reduce operational costs. A happy byproduct of such actions are reductions in fuel consumption from driving and idling.
Modern GPS systems and smart navigation planning make it simpler to get trucks where they need to go in as little time as possible. Wrong turns or inefficient routes require more time and fuel, which means money lost and higher emissions. Although it may seem like a small action that most freight companies already practice, it can never hurt to continue to move towards optimization.
Working with transportation management systems and high-quality GPS systems would accomplish the following:
- Cut transportation costs.
- Improve route times.
- Decrease environmental harm.
Such systems can ensure you find that ideal balance of speed, delivery rates, fuel consumption, and cost of freight rates with their comprehensive tracking and analysis tools.
Driving at Slower Speeds
Current diesel engines have an optimized speed at which their fuel burn rate is equal to their fuel output. This means if a driver goes too slowly, they will require more fuel to power the vehicle; and if a driver goes too quickly, they create waste by burning that fuel at an inefficient rate. While it may seem counterintuitive, requiring drivers to go at slower speeds could both cut fuel costs and reduce emissions.
Naturally, the consumer mandate for the freight industry is for a carrier to get their goods to their customers as quickly as possible. However, by reducing speeds by even a few miles an hour, such actions could drastically reduce input costs and help the environment. Transportation management software can track such numbers and help find that ideal driving rate in order to burn fuel as efficiently as possible.
When a truck reaches the end of its lifespan and is no longer worth using, it will eventually go to the scrap yard. Optimizing scrapping methods can make the freight industry greener. When trucks hit the point where they are unsafe or inefficient, they should be scrapped with an emphasis placed on re-using or re-purposing any recyclable materials that are pulled from it.
As freight companies take steps to improve scrapping and recycling methods, they will be able to get the most out of their trucks. Saving money in the long run by repurposing materials rather than simply trashing them.
Fuel prices and taxes have risen over the decades with global volatility causing price fluctuations and creating uncertainty. As a result, freight companies are pursuing more fuel-efficient engines. Currently, there is a green movement within the freight industry towards multi-fuel engines in the short run and electric in the long run.
- Multi-fuel engines – Allow trucks to utilize gaseous or liquid fuels, which when merged with emerging filtering techniques, can dramatically cut down on emissions. The dilemma transportation experts face, however, is that modifications to engines that allow biofuel can be exorbitantly expensive, which could rapidly increase operational costs.
- Electric engines – The future of trucking is electric engines and we are on the verge of such tech becoming commonplace. Since fuel costs have the most significant impacts on both freight costs and freight rates, escaping such practices would be a massive step towards both cutting costs and emissions. While the initial input costs for electric motors or semis are high, the long run cost reductions would be exponential.
Eventually, when the benefits of adopting electric engines outweigh the costs, the entire shipping industry will inevitably move in that direction, thus creating a greener future. While this even does, in fact, lay on the distant horizon, as of now, we are not in a place where all freight companies view such expenditures as being worthy of the cost.
Rethinking Driving Practices
There are three specific things a driver can do to be greener. Teaching such methods and monitoring and analyzing driver habits with transportation management software and electronic monitoring devices will allow freight companies to help optimize driver action. Such steps include:
- Driving at lower speeds – As mentioned earlier, if drivers reduce the speed to the optimal rate, they can create meaningful reductions in their truck’s emissions. On top of that, driving at slower speeds can decrease chances for accidents.
- Focusing on fuel efficiency – By encouraging drivers to take their time when accelerating or breaking, drivers can significantly reduce fuel consumption. What many do not know is that breaking, especially sudden breaking, burns far more fuel than rapidly accelerating.
- Electronification of cabins – While drivers may inevitably have to sleep in their cabin, if they wish to remain hot or cold, it is better for them to hook up to a truck stop and use that power source instead of burning fuel to heat or cool the cabin.
Freight companies are under increasing pressure and scrutiny to implement green shipping and reduce their negative impact on the environment. Because of this, companies are making a concerted effort to go green. While some of these changes towards being green may impact shipping rates now and in the near future, the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.